Last night I was watching the news before going to bed, and I saw an excerpt of a new ISIS propaganda video that apparently has several versions produced in different languages, including English. There was a section of the video that flashed through the last three or four American presidents, calling them awful names, then landed on a graphic that featured the letters "LGBT" and the word "sodomites" with a voiceover saying something about America being a land of sodomites. In the moment I dismissed it as gibberish, but the images and language kept coming back to me as I tried to fall asleep.
Then I started thinking about other images that I'd seen throughout the day, pumping through the flat screen TV at work or on the Internet news sites that pop up when I open a browser. A graphic with text indicating that Ted Cruz is surging in the Republican presidential polls (Isn't he one of the many Americans who also doesn't care for sodomites?). A young black teenager being shot by police in the streets of Chicago. (Isn't that a violent act that is again terrorizing a whole community of people?). And the list kept running through my head, so much so that I couldn't fall asleep.
Taken generally, there's an alarming overlap between all of these viewpoints and actions, even though I recognize that there are vast differences in circumstances, situations, and levels of violence involved. I'm making the point because I think we need to start looking at how terror works and how it's packaged. If the purpose of terrorism is to terrify, render people immobile out of fear, maybe it would be helpful to think about how actions and symbols that we've come to accept as cultural norms have evolved over time, or have come in a specific moment in time, to represent something terrifying for a particular community of people. We become reactive because of our fear, and as a result, we wage campaigns to restore "order" through violence, whether it be physical or spoken. People can believe what they want to believe about so-called sodomites. Police officers need to do their jobs. But when do beliefs and actions cross over a line and create feelings of terror in other people?
I have no sympathy for ISIS or any other group that uses terror to control people or to make a point, and I want the violence that they propagate to stop. However, on this day before Thanksgiving, I'm just thinking about what it means to have freedom and feeling thankful for that freedom. Part of having freedom is taking the opportunity to self-reflect about how I use that freedom. I'm wondering if we could collectively begin to take a hard look at how we inadvertently terrorize each other because of what we believe to be "right" or "just" or "fair." I believe that the only way to really change the world is to consider what I do to contribute to a given problem, figure out what, if anything, I can do to change my behavior, and then model that change for others. If we looked more carefully at how we package our own terror, maybe we'd become more effective at ending terrorism on a worldwide scale.